Stop and Frisk: Whose Side Are You On?

As we were gathering on the corner of Jamaica Avenue and 153rd Street next to a lovely park, the police were right on top of us, standing actually in 153rd Street.  Police vans were on the opposite side of Jamaica Avenue and officers stood on three  of the four corners of the intersection.  One of us, a member of OWS with a lot of recent experience in protest, remarked to me on the arrival of a particular “white shirt,” the notorious one caught on film punching one of the peaceful OWS protesters in the face.

I had brought my zills (finger cymbals) and a pair of claves.  I played the former and the guy from OWS the latter as we sang “Whose side are you on? Whose side are you on?”  I danced about as we did.  Two women about my age had brought tamborines and supported us.

Sometimes I looked directly into the eyes of the police officers close to us as I sang “Whose side are you on?”

We were all on the side of the Black and Latino youth who are are stopped and frisked, overwhelmingly for no reason at all, in the illegal, unconstitutional, and illegitimate NYPD policy of Stop and Frisk.  Young boys going home from school in certain neighborhoods like this one are famously targeted for violent groping and humiliation by the police.  Last year there were 600,000 incidents of this assault, more than one a minute every day of the year.  This year, the target is 700,000.  Here is a link to a site about the numbers.

Carl Dix

After we were assembled and those who had chosen to participate in the peaceful civil disobedience at the nearby police precinct had been advised by the legal team from the National Lawyers Guild, Carl Dix the founder with Professor Cornel West of the STOP Stop and Frisk movement, addressed us.

A veteran of racist police policies and a person who chose prison over fighting the Viet Nam war, Carl Dix is a giant in the movement and in the struggle to build a better world.  He reminded us of why we were there, not just to protest but to stop this policy.  He introduced other people who were leading this action: college students who are working to stop this and to overturn all the policies of criminalizing black and brown people that has led to the mass incarceration in the US which has the largest prison population in the world by magnitudes; a young man who had refused to be frisked, a leader of the Occupy the Hood from that neighborhood, and women from the community whose sons and grandsons have been victimized by stop and frisk.  The latter spoke movingly of what this egregious policy has done to them, their families, the youth, and the entire community.

Carl then told us how we would march to the precinct, making stops along the route to let people in the community know what we were doing.  He asked those of us who knew the chants that were now becoming traditional in this movement to lead us as we went.  He also asked that those who were going to do the peaceful civil disobedience lead the march.

Carl Dix, Students, Members of the Community who were committed to peaceful civil disobedience, joined arms and led the march.

To the cries of “Stop and Frisk is the new Jim Crow, Stop and Frisk has got to go” and “Stop and Frisk don’t stop the crime, Stop and Frisk IS the crime,” and “We won’t stop till we STOP stop and frisk,” we headed out to the 103rd Precinct, snaking through the community to let them know we were there in solidarity with them.  Carl stopped several times along the way to address the crowds of people running Saturday errands and some of us distributed flyers.  Carl always said we were there to STOP this policy.

This area was where Sean Bell was murdered and his two friends grievously injured in a hail of 50 police bullets in 2006 at this time of year on the day before his wedding.  Though community outrage did provoke indictments against the officers involved, they were not convicted in spite of a completely muddled story and no evidence that the three men or indeed anyone but the police had weapons, much less fired any, which, of course, had been the pretext for the massive and fatal firing by the police.  Another chant was “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.”

The 103rd precinct when we finally got there, our ranks swelling slightly as people actually joined us in our march through the busy commercial area, was barricaded off.

The whole thing had felt tense to me with our police escort all the way and the siege-like atmosphere of the precinct heightened my sense of tension and menace.

This was the third of these actions, and one of a huge number of peaceful protests in New York in the past months where the protesters have not so much as turned over a trash can.  We actually picked up any litter we dropped along the route, schooled as we all are now by the OWS.  This over-reaction to people assembling and chanting is revealing of how defensive the authorities are, and, of course with reason.  This police policy is illegal and unconstitutional and is only in place because the rule of law and the Constitution no longer obtain in the New York City and in the US.

After more remarks by people affected by Stop and Fisk and some statements about the value of peaceful civil disobedience as a tool in bringing about change, those who had committed to doing so walked in groups, arms linked together, through the barriers and up the steps of the precinct where they continued to chant as they were arrested and taken off.

Arms linked, they head for the precinct door

Then began the arduous work of trying to find out where they were and to get the legal team there as well as friends, family, and protesters to support them.

It is now afternoon on Sunday and these valiant and selfless activists are still held in jail.  They have been assigned to Central Booking which means possible serious charges and maybe bail requirements.  Several of these protesters, beginning with Carl Dix, have been arrested at all of the protests and are now “repeat offenders.”

I consider myself very privileged to be on their side and on the side of the young men whose lives are impacted so horribly by being stopped and roughed up by the police for absolutely no reason.

We won’t stop till we STOP stop and frisk.

Whose side are you on?  Let your actions speak on that subject. Below is a link to a site about the STOP Stop and Frisk  where you can find out what you can do to help.

Stop Mass Incarceration is here.


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